In the wake of the news that "Kish" (Kyle and Fish) will soon be invisible on ONE LIFE TO LIVE's Llanview canvas, I took pause to think about the gains and losses of gay and lesbian characters on daytime in the past year. Sure we have been treated to more stories and representation than ever before. Yet I can't help but wonder if this was necessarily a good thing. Are we better off now than we were before 2009? Let's examine the evidence:
THE GOOD: Crystal Chappell (Olivia) and Jessica Leccia (Natalia) were given a beautiful mature story line to play out about two women who simply come to terms with their love for each other. The story unfolded slowly over a the course of a year, and did not miss a beat in exploring the confusion and complexities of same sex love. Plus the revelation that Mayor Doris [Orlagh Cassidy] was also gay fused the story with humor and fun, and her coming out to her daughter Ashley was an emotional high point of the year.
THE BAD: GUIDING LIGHT was canceled at the dramatic peak of this story.
THE UGLY: Before the show ended, the writers had Natalia uncharacteristically betray Olivia by running out of town after learning of her unplanned pregnancy (four months after conception!). There were certainly ways that the show could have accommodated Leccia's real-life maternity leave that would have maintained the integrity of both characters. By the end of the series, the couple never shared a kiss or made love, whereas all other couples in Springfield had a chance to kiss and display affection before and during the final episode.
ALL MY CHILDREN
THE GOOD: The wedding of Bianca and Reese was celebrated by all of the Pine Valley community, and even made the cover of Soap Opera Digest! The chemistry between Eden Riegel and Tamara Braun was electric and sprarkled in every scene they had together. Ultimately their love won out and the two happily left town together in April.
THE BAD: Their wedding bliss was short lived once Bianca found out that Reese had been smooching Zach, who just happened to be Bianca's baby's father, and her sister Kendall's husband. Because realistically, doesn't this happen to most lesbian couples?
THE UGLY: Reese's bisexuality had to be "punished" by being blinded, a flashback to archaic 1950s views of women's sexuality common in literature and films from that era. Riegel was unfairly scapegoated in the media by head writer Charles Pratt for the unpopularity of this story with viewers.
AS THE WORLD TURNS
THE GOOD: Luke (Van Hansis) and Noah (Jake Silbermann) have continued to be featured as an out-and-proud gay couple in Oakdale, gaining acceptance and love from the rest of the town. Dr. Reid Oliver's [Eric Sheffer Stevens] coming out bodes well for increasing dramatic tension and giving the Emmy nominated Hansis more to do.
THE BAD: The couple is peripheral at best, given minor airtime once or twice a week with Noah disappearing for weeks on end. They were saddled with a prosaic triangle involving Noah's film professor played by a grossly miscast Forbes March. Their love scenes have been completely invisible, and now non-existent. With ATWT ending in September, 2010, we will tragically be without our "Nuke" fix.
THE UGLY: In a bizarre move, Luke's parents adopted adult Noah in order to authorize a crucial surgery. So now two of the only three gay guys in Oakdale are brothers? Ick!
THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS
THE GOOD: The writers bravely brought back Philip Chancellor III from the dead as an out gay man, and managed to keep it a secret up until the air date. Plus we got to see Adam Newman play fast and loose with sexual identity in order to keep Rafe from finding incriminating evidence. Actor Chris Engen walked off the set allegedly offended by his character's interest in another man, among other things.
THE BAD: After dropping the I'm-alive-and-gay bomb on his family, Phillip was virtually ignored and was soon escorted out of town. Adam is now unambiguously heterosexual, and Rafe has been relegated to the D-list of airtime.
THE UGLY: In a head-scratching move, the writers and actor Thom Bierdz presented Phillip as arrogantly justified in using his sexuality to fake his death and emotionally hurt Jill, Kay, and Nina for the past 20 years, sending a bizarre message that it was easier to be dead than gay in the 1980s. This is offensive not only to viewers who were gay in the '80s, but a slap in the face to the millions who actually did die as a result of the AIDS epidemic. And that "scandalous" scene between Adam and Rafe? Never did a touch on the chin say so little.
ONE LIFE TO LIVE
THE GOOD: 2009 was a great time to visit Llanview as Oliver (Scott Evans) and Kyle (Brett Claywell) struggled with their feelings of forbidden love. Dorian's gay wedding-athon lent sharp humor and political relevance to the show. The gay wedding episode in which Oliver loudly declared his love for Kyle to the entire town was one of the most inspiring and empowering moment on television ever. Tia Dionne Hodges's amazing portrayal of ends-justify-the-means activist Amelia was spot-on accurate and reflective of many individuals I have known. With the addition of Nick, OLTL could boast the only realistic and compelling gay triangle on television. The New Year's Eve scenes during which "Kish" first made love was depicted beautifully, artistically, and realistically. And it was smokin' hot!
THE BAD: Nick and Amelia who? These two complicated and fascinating characters have disappeared from the canvas. Oliver having unprotected drunken sex with Stacy was not the smartest move, but it certainly lent legs to the drama and set "Kish" up for years of rich story ahead.
THE UGLY: We won't get to see those years of rich story. On March 10, ONE LIFE TO LIVE announced they were unceremoniously dropping this story, once again demonstrating that gay characters are disposable, extraneous and inconsequential.
Keep in mind, I am critiquing the shows that had the guts to try to tell meaningful stories this past year. This is not in any way meant to let B&B, DAYS, and GH off the hook for failing to even attempt to include gay and lesbian characters. But as a gay man, the message to me from network soaps is clear: You are expendable, you are unimportant, your stories don't count. 2009 was the gayest year in soap history but come September, all those characters will have gone the way of Lynn Carson, Hank Elliot and Billy Douglas. Is this progress folks? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Then press here for a more optimistic perspective on the future of gays/lesbians on Indie Soaps.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.